Sunday, 7 June 2015

Budgeting for a big trip

I poured over my finances for months to make sure I hit my target amount. I wanted to have enough money for a memorable trip and I didn't want to have to fret. My experience of being robbed in Dublin and having to be frugal one day so the next day I could splash out on my friend's birthday has stayed with me. It was horrible not having enough money and having to rely on other people to fund me. Those were my naive days before I got my identity stolen and, as a result of that, began carrying a credit card for emergencies.

Everybody's circumstances will be different, but mine were I was earning half as much per annum in the Post Office as I was previously working in travel, so I knew saving enough was going to take me twice as long. This was frustrating in itself, but I just kept my eye on the prize thinking about the wonderful trip I was going to have!

I have friends who do minimal prep. before a trip and other friends who start packing four months ahead; I sit somewhere in the middle of that. Although I'd been saving for months and knew exactly what G Adventures trip I wanted to do, I didn't book it until 6 weeks out (and my flights 5 weeks out because I was flying to Canada first a week before the trip started). It was a case of "Ok, I've finally booked this and... OMG I'm actually doing this!!!" I was in the period where, if I cancelled, I'd lose all of my money.

Being prepared for surprises is really important, if you haven't already anticipated them! Two things I never budgeted for were anti malarial pills (£60) and having the Rabies vaccine (£185). I'd purposely picked Central America because I didn't need any visas - and I thought I wouldn't need anti malarial pills either. Easy peasy. However, after checking out the Fit For Travel website with the Nurse, it seemed I would. I don't mess around with anti malarial pills and always buy the efficient (but expensive) Malerone. I only bought the bare minimum to cover me just for the duration of the tour, but that was my choice. I used them a lot whilst travelling around Africa and I know what I can and can't get away with. If I was doing the full course, I would have bought another 9 pills for before and after. With the Rabies vaccine, it's a course of 3 injections over 3 to 4 weeks. I only had these because I thought the so called "chicken" buses were full of chickens and I might get pecked. Turns out this is a myth. And we never travelled on chicken buses anyway. But there were a lot of dogs roaming around so... Anyhow, it's something I don't have to worry about for a while now. Happy days. I had to pay £10 for a private prescription and then £15 per injection for the Nurse to administer it. The actual product cost £130, but be careful (and organised) because they go in and out of stock all of the time (UK).

The only other big purchase I needed to make bar the tour and post tour accommodation for 2 nights (£1,000) and my flights (5) via Toronto (£900) was my big back pack. I went cheap on this and took a chance only paying £45. Originally I'd wanted to spend £100, but needs must. As it turns out, it held up very well... phew!

So I'd spent £2,200 and now for the trip itself. Switching to dollars and working on the terrible rate of 1.45 £ to $: I had 400 dollars for food (20 dollars per day). This is perfectly do-able if you only eat twice a day (big breakfast and big dinner) which I do in hot and humid temps, or 3 small meals a day. I didn't drink every evening. I had 500 dollars for excursions, activities, laundry and shopping outside of food like emergency headphones (!) There was a 200 dollar emergency fund stashed away as recommended by G Adventures. And finally, 50 dollars for arrival and departure taxes at the border crossings (our CEO handled this), 40 dollars for my two airport transfers (30 dollars in Costa Rica and 10 dollars for the airport shuttle in Guatemala) and the remaining 40 dollars I used towards tips. Total 1230 dollars. So I needed just over £3,000 for this tour.   

I always have ready cash, but I travelled with my debit card and credit card as well - just in case. About a third of the people on my tour had trouble getting their money from ATMs. It wasn't that there weren't any ATMs. Actually they were plentiful for a change. One had prepaid bank credit cards, but didn't realise only 40% of the card's total could be taken as cash and the other 60% had to be used in restaurants and shops as credit card purchases. The problem with this is, most places charge up to 5% in card processing fees. Another had an STA prepaid credit card which didn't work in the majority of ATMs. Not very helpful. I'm vary of these so called great travel credit card schemes.

So, that's my budgeting laid out for you and just remember, if you do choose to travel with lots of cash, be sure to either sleep with your money belt under your pillow and when awake wear it at all times, or use the hotel security boxes, or spread it around your luggage - as long as you can lock your bag! That's what saved me from complete embarrassment in Dublin.